The anticipation is about to come to a head as Wildcat fans prepare for the first Kansas State Wildcats season without Bill Snyder at the helm in over a decade (or in 30 years if you choose to pretend that 2006-2008 never happened, and we’re not judging you).
With any new season, there are questions that need answers. In K-State’s case, this is probably even more true than ever. Of course, in the past those answers were entirely theoretical until October, as the program was locked down tighter than a SuperMax prison.
Now? We’re able to see what’s going on a lot more clearly.
With that in mind, here’s five questions and, hopefully, five correct answers.
1) Who’s the most important player on the Wildcat offense?
The easy answer to this would be Skylar Thompson, and at season’s end he may very well be the team’s offensive MVP. But the real answer may well be Malik Knowles. Knowles only saw action in four games last year as K-State took advantage of the new rule allowing players to do exactly that during a redshirt season and retain their redshirt. But he was a revelation in those four games, catching 10 balls for 100 yards and two scores.
It is not an exaggeration to say that the success of K-State’s depleted and much-maligned receiving corps is going to be the key to whether this offense functions. If Knowles presents himself as a viable partner-in-crime for senior Dalton Schoen, and they get some help from folks like Wykeen Gill and Chabastin Taylor, the offense will manage. If Knowles steps up and becomes the star many think he’s capable of becoming, watch out.
2) Who’s the most important player on the Wildcat defense?
K-State’s linebacking corps in 2018 suffered from the same image issue the wideouts are experiencing right now. Elijah Sullivan was supposed to be a big part of correcting that misapprehension.
And then he got hurt.
This season, he’s back and ready for action, which is a good thing because the guy who gamely shouldered that workload last year is injured himself (Justin Hughes). The Wildcat defensive line is solid, and the defensive backs have some experience and talent.
But unless the middle of the field is locked down, there will be problems. Sullivan, alongside Da’Quan Patton, is going to have to be back in top shape for that to happen.
3) What should be the biggest change between last year and this year?
Okay, we know the most obvious answer here is “Chris Klieman”. But the more important answer is going to be schematic. K-State is going to do things differently than they used to; a true running-back-by-committee approach rather than a big guessing game, a completely different look for the tight ends, and more actual carries for fullbacks.
But the biggest change we’ll see on the field is going to be the complexity of the schemes. Bill Snyder was famous, or perhaps notorious, for the complex schemes — especially blocking schemes — which actually forced K-State to play guys who might not have been the best athlete available in their position simply because the more athletic player couldn’t get it.
We’re not saying the new system is dumbed-down, necessarily. But it won’t result in better players riding the pine because they can’t meet Snyder’s exacting standards.
4) What is the most important game on the schedule, and why?
The first two games won’t tell us anything. The trip to Starkville is, under the circumstances, a likely loss to Mississippi State, and we shouldn’t panic if things go badly there.
That may, in retrospect, be the most important game if Something Wonderful happens, but it’s more likely to be the following week against Oklahoma State when we see just how well this new regime is going to compete against a peer program within the Big 12.
It would be nice to be able to express cautious optimism, but this team is still rebuilding somewhat. It’s entirely possible that the pieces for immediate success are right there waiting to be utilized, but this squad probably needs a year to firm up and gel. 5-7, or maybe 6-6 with a throwaway bowl bid, is about the limit of our optimism. We’ll be happy to be proven wrong.